Mainspring (Jay Lake, Clockwork Earth #1)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Mainspring is an adventure with an intriguing and innovative style, melding a magical steampunk clockwork world with traditional Judeo-Christian spiritual elements. Unfortunately, this initially promising premise is ruined by jarring and disturbing sexual elements and a plot that reads more like a travelogue than a coherent interlinked story. With the exception of the protagonist, there aren’t any strong characters, and with the exception of a distinct beginning and end, the events in the story don’t really develop in any logical progression other than the fact that things generally get weirder the further into the book you go. I can’t recommend this book despite a somewhat promising setting because the execution was too poor and the elements that the author deliberately included were too disturbing.

Greater Detail:
Hethor, a lowly clockmaker’s apprentice, is visited in the night by clockwork angel who charges him with the task of winding the mainspring of the earth before all of creation runs down. To complete his task, Hethor must travel far across his clockwork world and develop as a person beyond the stunted, prudish, Victorian era morals and preconceptions that have been instilled in him by his society.

I’m going to come right out and say what my biggest problem with this book is. The protagonist f**ks a monkey. Sure, the monkey can talk and think, and it’s consensual, and maybe it’s my own prudish preconceptions that make me have a problem with it, but, well… there’s this monkey and the protagonist f**ks it — like a bunch of times! — and I found it quite disturbing, and now whenever I encounter a monkey in another book my first thought is going to be “Geez, I hope no one f**ks that monkey, because that would really creep me out.” Prior to reading this book it had never occurred to me that anyone would want to f**k a monkey. I know this, because as it became increasingly clear that this book was going to feature some monkey f**king, I kept on making up other explanations for what in hindsight was very clear foreshadowing of the boatloads of monkey f**king that lay ahead in wait to savagely violate my brain with imagines of a guy f**king a monkey.

It seems like most of the adult themes in the book are just as gratuitous and unnecessary as a monkey f**k. The protagonist comes from a typical prudish steampunk society with thoroughly Victorian sexual mores, but odd sexual elements are randomly inserted rather awkwardly into this narrative. There will be long sections of standard fairy tale/fable style travelogue riddled with strange fantastic sights, then suddenly you get an update on what the protagonist’s penis is doing. It’s quite jarring really. The violence is similarly jarring and needlessly bloody. One minute you are imagining sweeping vistas littered with incomprehensible structures, then you are suddenly thrust knee deep in blood, gristle, and viscera while people and monsters hack at each other inexpertly with swords.

My relative unfamiliarity with Christian symbolism might very well have left me bereft of the means to unlock a true understanding of this work, but even if there is some grand uniting theme running through the book that I am completely unaware of, the book is still something of an awkward mess. The author doesn’t really spend much time on any particular character aside from the protagonist to give them any depth, and the places visited in the book are all beautifully described but don’t seem to have any purpose or function within the world the author has created. It seems to me that the author created a great many hollow people and hollow places and threw them all together hoping for something to come together in the way of a story, but nothing ultimately did.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
If I take all the good parts of this book, imagine what this book could really be if it tried, and remove everything objectionable (namely the unnecessary gratuitous sexual themes, violence, and bestiality) I would say that this most resembles Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, starting with The Golden Compass.

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